I am a potter. I have a wheel, I throw clay, sometimes with more success than others, and I do some hand building. It’s really my only non-physical hobby. I wish I had more time for it, but such is life. For me, potting is a Zen experience. I can lose myself in the world of damp clay while I create objects out of nothing. When I first started, I tried to make every ounce of clay count. Bits and chunks would ooze from between my fingers I would strive to pat them back into place. My teacher would laugh and say, “Let what isn’t important fall away. A good pot has only essential elements. Clay remembers everything you do to it.”
That’s a lot like writing. When I first started writing novels, I tried to keep all my words. Everything was important. How else could the reader fully know the story? Took two critique sessions to get over that idea. Probably should have taken only one, but my critique partner, who was far more experienced than I, was being kind. By the second session, she realized hints were not sufficient, this newbie needed tough love, and red pencil in hand, struck through whole pages. Killing my darlings and teaching me that the story started with the action. Readers did not care what went before. It’s best not to bore them. Although I did not know it at the time, this advice follows Elmore Leonard’s famous rule, ‘Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.’
No one is ever going to accuse me of writing short. That’s not my style. I do like compound sentences. I believe that stories have multiple parts and storylines. Most of all, I believe that writing fiction mean telling a story. That takes lots of words. My writing style is a combination outliner pantser. I need to know a beginning and have an idea of an ending. Sometimes I even know four or five highlights in between. Then I have to tell myself the story. I work it through, twist it around, and let all my characters have at it. They often argue with me over who gets top billing, who dies, and who did it. Once, they knew my villain was innocent. They didn’t tell me until the second draft. Characters do not always play fair.
At about the end of page 100,000 – no, not really, but it feels that way – there’s a story in all those words, somewhere. That’s when the pottery knife comes out. I shave away the excess. All the superfluous words fall to the floor. Word by word, phrase by phrase, they fall away from the essence of the tale. All the things I had to tell myself leave the page. At the end of the third draft, I’m left with the essence of the story. Everything unnecessary has been cut away. Only the essentials remain, and I’m ready to polish.
How about you? Are you able to write tight from the start?